Martin Taylor and David Grisman – I’m Beginning To See The Light (1999)

Martin Taylor is a finger style jazz player with phenomenal technique. David Grisman is a (nominally bluegrass) mandolin player with great skills and eclectic leanings. This was their second recorded collaboration.

There is, as far as I can tell, nothing revolutionary or ground-breaking about this record. The songs are all jazz standards (“The Autumn Leaves”, the title track, “Cheek to Cheek”). The combination of the guitar and mandolin in a jazz style had been done before (by the two of them on an earlier album) though if, like me, you’re still getting used to the idea that “mandolin” doesn’t have to equal “bluegrass” then there’s some novelty in hearing Grisman take on these pieces (though I’m fast getting over that now).

It’s all in a pretty traditional style as well, despite both players having taken on more exotic projects than this. Taylor mostly eschews the baffling multi-part playing that he can deliver and stays in a jazzy, bluesy postal zone.

The selling point is the sheer excellence of the proceedings, the skills of everybody involved (which includes a fine, simpatico rhythm secion), the inventiveness, the tunes they find within the tunes and the way it’s all about the musical effect, never just musical muscle flexing. When Taylor goes for fast runs – and he executes them with faultless clarity and precision – it’s because the musical effect is heightened.

Both the featured players repeatedly deliver clever arrangements and solos that are often understated but in fact full of detail and very fine playing. Even the rhythm parts are interesting and often complement the lead part on the other instrument. The rhythm section never miss a trick and underpin everything in fine style – again not in any sort of ground breaking way but with musical sympathy and great skill.

This is the sound of excellence.

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